Protein: it’s what’s for dinner—and breakfast and lunch. Instead of relying on old favorites like chicken and powders (which are great), add a little excitement and variety to your meal. Willow Jarosh MS, RD and Stephanie Clarke MS, RD, registered dietitians and co-owners of C&J Nutrition in NYC & DC, share their top protein food picks. Your taste buds will thank you. 

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Hemp Seeds

Why we chose it: Double whammy nutrition power of omega 3s and protein. 

Grams of protein: 13g per 1/4 cup 

Tip: Sprinkle onto salads—the fat will help you better absorb the nutrients from dark leafy greens and other veggies in addition to adding a nice crunchy texture and flavor.

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Why we chose it: This plant-based protein source provides an all-in-one balance of protein, carbohydrates, and unsaturated fat. 

Grams of protein: 8g per cup (in the pod) 

Tip: Opt for the pre-cooked frozen versions that are still in the pod (like you get with sushi). Put a handful or two in a resealable bag, toss in your briefcase, and it’ll be thawed and ready to eat by snack-time.

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0% Plain Greek Yogurt

Why we chose it: Versatility. We use this stuff in place of sour cream, to thicken soups, in smoothies, on bagels with lox. Basically, there isn’t really anything you CAN’T put it on! 

Grams of protein: 18g per 6-ounce container (or 24g per cup)

Tip: Instead of sugar-loaded pancake toppings, opt for 0% plain Greek yogurt with fruit, nuts, and a small drizzle of maple syrup to add some protein to a typically carb-heavy meal.

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1% Cottage Cheese

Why we chose it: Since protein helps prevent spikes and crashes in blood sugar. It’s a VIP at snack-time—it is a much higher source of protein than regular style yogurt. It’s also a different texture than yogurt, so it gives variety in its uses. 

Grams of protein: 21 grams of protein per 6 ounces (vs. 10 grams for a cup of regular, non-Greek yogurt). 

Tip: Top 1% cottage cheese with a sliced banana and sliced almonds for a work-friendly snack that doesn’t come from a vending machine.

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Why we chose it: Whole grain sources of carbohydrate provide fiber and B vitamins (which your body needs in order to use food for energy) — why not choose one that also packs a protein punch? 

Grams of protein: 8g per cup (cooked) 

Tip: Skip the sugary, processed breakfast cereals and opt for quinoa with skim milk, blueberries, walnuts and a little maple syrup.

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Part Skim Ricotta Cheese

Why we chose it: The versatile texture, neutral flavor and beefed up calcium count (over a third of your daily needs) turn this “stuffed shells staple” into a fridge regular. A lot of people don’t think of this as a common protein source, and it pairs well with other non-protein sources with the ease of not having to cook something like meat, poultry or fish.

 Grams of protein: 14g per 1/2 cup 

Tip: Spread on whole grain frozen waffles and top with fruit and cinnamon for a filling breakfast in under 5 minutes.

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Grass-fed Beef

Why we chose it: It’s obvious that beef is packed with protein, but grass-fed beef has the extra bonus of having a healthier fat profile than corn-fed beef (Read: less of the bad cholesterol raising types of saturated fat and more unsaturated fats like heart healthy omega 3s, and conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs, which may help boost muscle and decrease body fat.) 

Grams of protein: 28g per 4 ounce serving

Tip: Many restaurants and grocers are now offering grass-fed beef, but if you can’t find it near you, try this great company online called U.S Wellness Meats.

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Why we chose it: Convenience and nutrition — it takes about 10 minutes to get from frozen shrimp to a delicious meal. And with less than 1 gram of saturated fat and 60 calories per 3 ounces and lots of important vitamins and minerals like vitamin B12, D, and selenium, this source of protein is lean and mean (in a good way...). 

Grams of protein: 12g per 3 oz 

Tip: Thaw frozen shrimp under cold running water, then sauté it in olive oil, garlic, halved grape tomatoes, and fresh basil, then toss with whole wheat pasta and top with parmesan cheese for a hearty post-workout dinner that’s ready in 15 minutes. Want something even faster? Microwave thawed shrimp with olive oil and chopped garlic for 4 minutes on high. Serve with a bag of steam-in-the-bag snow peas and microwave brown rice.

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Pre-cooked Chicken Sausage

Why we chose it: You get all the flavor that you love about sausage but with one third of the unhealthy saturated fats (and only 120 - 140 calories!). 

Grams of protein: 17g per link 

Tip: Sauté sliced onions and pepper in olive oil, then mix in a sliced chicken sausage and eat in a whole wheat hot dog bun. It’s quick, easy, protein packed and feels like you shouldn’t be eating it!

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Why we chose it: Have ‘em morning noon or night. In addition to being a tasty, versatile source of protein, eggs are also packed with important nutrients choline and selenium. Plus, one study showed that starting the day with eggs at breakfast may help you stay lean. 

Grams of protein: 6.3g per large egg

Tip: Mix 1 whole egg with egg whites to keep the protein up but the cholesterol and saturated fat in check. Want a quick meal post workout? Whip up a frittata. Just add whatever veggies you have on hand and a little reduced-fat cheese and serve with a whole wheat English muffin for a complete meal.

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Why we chose it: They’re packed with fiber (15 grams per cup!), which helps you feel more satisfied with your meals in combination with the protein that they contain. This combo also helps keep your blood sugar more stable, which means less energy and hunger ups and downs. They’re also brimming with iron (6.6mg per cup cooked — over 80% of the daily recommended intake for men). 

Grams of protein: 18 grams per cup (cooked)

Tip: Lentils are faster to prepare than most beans and legumes because they don’t need to be soaked overnight. Simply cook in liquid, like water or low-sodium vegetable/chicken broth, in a 3:1 liquid to lentil ratio (i.e. 3 cups liquid per 1 cup of lentils) for 20 - 30 minutes or until soft.

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